“There are so many strange things in the world beyond our knowledge, and maybe there are ghosts too, though I do not understand why they should come back to this world when they have gone from it.” From The Western Island by Peig Sayers
The Blasket Islands, a rugged six-island archipelago off the Dingle Peninsula – the western-most tip of Ireland (in Irish called An Blascaod Mór) – seem particularly close to the Irish soul. Besides its natural beauty and connection to a long-gone life of the sea, it was home to three of the most loved and revered writers in the Irish language, Peig Sayers, Muiris Ó Súilleabháin, and Tomás Ó Criomhthain.
Great Blasket is the main island of this archipelago, which is part of County Kerry. While only about three miles off the coast at its closest point, it is often shrouded in fog – an island apparition set in the Celtic Sea.
The Islands are now uninhabited, but there were residents living and working on Great Blasket until the middle of the 20th century. The small fishing community had shrunk to only 27 people by then, from a high of about 150 (that’s according to the Irish census of 1841, so maybe there were even more in earlier decades and centuries, before census records were kept). The island itself is accessible by ferry or chartered excursion, and there is also a mainland Blasket Island Centre in Dingle, which chronicles and celebrates the history of the islands, their fishing heritage, and impact on the literature of the Irish language.
The waning of small-scale fishing, and young people leaving the island and its isolated way of life, meant inevitable decline for any continuing community. Finally, in 1953, the Irish government moved the few remaining inhabitants off the island, unable to provide them with support or services. The island lay deserted and crumbling for the next five decades, until efforts to open it up for day visits meant it would see some human life again. In 2009 the government bought most of the island for preservation of its natural environment, its deserted village, and its continuing connection to the sea, the snotgreen sea, the scrotumtightening sea (with apologies to James Joyce).